“The mycorrhizal network is a social democracy practising free trade economics in a mutually beneficial biological barter.”
Michael Phillips is an organic orchardist practising holistic and biodynamic techniques to grow healthy fruit, vegetables and soil. He is also the co-founder of The Holistic Orchard Network, keynote speaker and author of several books, including “Mycorrhizal Planet: How Fungi and Plants Work Together to Create Dynamic Soils”.
In an earlier blog post, we summarised some of Phillips’ key findings. In this blog post, we go into a little more detail about exactly how mycorrhizal fungi work symbiotically with plant roots, as Phillips described in an interview with Acres U.S.A. magazine.
We know that mycorrhizal fungi provide the host plant with water, nutrients, and pathogen protection in exchange for photosynthetic products, but how do these benefits actually come to fruition?
Mycorrhizal fungi carbon sequester
Along with bacterial partners, mycorrhizal fungi produce a protein substance called glomalin (made up of approximately 40% carbon). When plants are investing carbon sugars in their roots in order to form flowers and grow fruit, there’s a strong demand for nutrient trade. The feeder roots of the plants form a strong symbiotic relationship with the mycorrhizal fungi to meet higher carbon requirements during the reproductive period.
Once the demanding reproductive phase ends, the roots of the plants and the hyphae of the fungi retract. When this happens, the fungi leave behind the glomalin coating, effectively adding 40% carbon to the soil.
Glueing the soil together
Another characteristic of glomalin is that it acts like glue. Fungi thus bind together particles of sand, silt, clay and humus with water tucked into the micropores. This creates soil aggregates that get bigger and become macroaggregates, creating good soil tilth.
The shared economy
Phillips says: “The basis of this underground economy is the fact that plant saps and fungal hyphae merge; let’s recognise this as a shared protoplasm – and this is where all the nutrient trades take place.”
The relationship between a plant and mycorrhizal fungi is by no means an individual affair. With plant diversity comes mycorrhizal diversity, allowing for a ‘sharing’ of resources within the ecosystem. For example, if a fungal partner delivers zinc that a certain plant doesn’t need, other fungi (through the shared protoplasm) can take that zinc to the other side of the field where there is another type of plant that needs it. Another example of this “social democracy” is when tall, vigorous plants at the height of the canopy in the sunshine deliver a little more carbon sugar to the roots so that these nutrients can be distributed throughout the plant community.
“What we’re touching on here is that this whole evolution across biological kingdoms points relentlessly to cooperation and support networks as a way to process in life. The ecologist Frank Egler said that nature is not more complicated than we think; it’s more complicated than we can think.”
Amazing, isn’t it?
To conclude… Phillips sums up the role of the conscious farmer beautifully:
“There was a time when farmers referred to what they were doing as the ‘making of the crop’. That it didn’t just happen because you had the right fertiliser and you had the right rains at the right times and then went in and got the harvest, but that you were actually a co-creator in that plot of ground and that crop you’re growing for food – for your family and your community. I think all are great teachers… I think that whatever you’re growing, when it becomes alive for you, it’s not a commodity – it’s alive, a life force. You can sense the pulse of the biology in the soil. You can sense those green cells reaching up to the sunshine, and you become one with that. I don’t think it gets better.”
Fungus for farmers
As we know, root health is plant health. Mycorrhizal fungi are the essence of healthy roots, and thus a determining factor for healthy yields. Zylem is a distributor of Nutri-Life Platform®, which contains huge numbers of Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi (AMF) (four species) and five strains of Trichoderma together in one breakthrough blend. Get in touch to find out more about the healthy way to promote a thriving mycorrhizal network: https://www.zylemsa.co.za/contact-us/.
Interested in reading the full interview?
Visit Acres USA to purchase the September 2019 issue and read the original article along with other interesting content.